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Independents' Day

One not-so-careful owner

Copperfield doesn’t enjoy telling patients they’re not fit to drive – but there are compensations.

Copperfield doesn't enjoy telling patients they're not fit to drive – but there are compensations.



I feel bad. I've just told an 86-year-old man that he's no longer fit to drive. He can't see all that well, he often couldn't remember where he'd parked, and occasionally he got lost on his way home.

His son told me dad had knocked the corner off the gate post twice in the last six months and reckoned the next time his ancient Toyota Corolla broke down he planned to tell him it wasn't repairable. Given that it's done more miles than the Starship Enterprise, that would probably have been true.

But when the time came for me to pour some virtual sugar into the petrol tank of his life – and I know people on the cusp of senile dementia can get a bit over-emotional – dad cried. He told me straight out that he'd top himself if he couldn't get around. This from a bloke who played professional football in the era of long shorts, leather footballs like lead weights and tackles from behind.

Sorry Harry. Really. Not at all sorry about Lawrence though. Bipolar, mad as a box of frogs, drives like a lunatic even when euthymic. I had an enormous sense of satisfaction while writing ‘Not even a dodgem at the fairground...' on his DVLA report. No insight, no engagement with psych services, no medication and an odd habit of writing to the GMC regularly, branding me ‘in league with the Devil' and ‘a blasphemer'. Allegations they do not plan to investigate further at this time.

Still, it's an ill wind. Parked outside the Copperfield Consulting Rooms there's a fairly new super-mini, with gleaming paintwork, a full service history and hardly any miles on the clock. Closer inspection reveals that every corner of the bumper is scuffed, every plastic wheel cover has been kerbed and almost every panel is dented.

The previous owner, genuinely a Little Old Lady who only Took it Down to the Shops (and to church on Sundays) may have done less than 6,000 miles, but in so doing had pranged it so often her children elected to sell it on before she graduated from hitting inanimate objects to rendering an innocent pedestrian permanently inanimate.

I can, and do, park it anywhere. It squeezes into the tightest spaces, it mounts the kerb and rests at a jaunty angle while I nip in to check on Mrs Jenkins's ear, which has been giving her gyp. I'd happily leave it double-parked in Barcelona to show off its battle scars and acquire more for the cause.

I'm not suggesting we should deem patients unfit to drive simply to get our hands on their motors at discount prices, not even the enthusiasts who polish their Ferrari 360 Spyders till they gleam every Sunday, but I am making a point of asking every patient who presents with ‘dizziness' what car they drive, just in case.

It's right there in the latest set of DVLA guidelines under ‘Liability to sudden attacks of unprovoked giddiness' which, to direct questioning, every patient in this morning's parade of the hypochondriacal would have signed up to.

‘An Aston Martin, you say? Tell me, do you ever feel lightheaded at the wheel during a long journey?'

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex.

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